Friday, January 17, 2014

Intelligences and Senses Part 2

So we've been talking about the intelligences and how they help us paint pictures in our stories.  As we mentioned earlier, most of our memoirs are fundamentally about interpersonal relationships (our relationships with important people in our families) or intrapersonal knowledge (our own thoughts and feelings).  But we can paint a picture of those relationships and the growth of them through using our senses and the other intelligences.

Today, I want to talk about using music to help reveal interpersonal relationships.  You can use music to reveal interpersonal relationships in several ways.

The most obvious use of music is a blatant reference to a song.  For example, I could write a story of "Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring."  I would start with my earliest memories of the song, its rocking rhythm, its long phrasing, my father weaving on his chair, eyes closed, as he caressed the song out of his bassoon.  Then I would move on to understanding how the song mattered to our family, that it was my paternal grandmother's favorite, that it had been used at every wedding since her own (and maybe used in her parents?  I should ask), how I came to hear that song and think of her and of family.  Then I could move on to the recent funeral of my grandfather, where the song was played again, this time by my cousin, who looks so much like all the men in my family (including my father), who wove with his oboe as my father had with his bassoon, and how now I, like my grandmother, can't hear the song without dry eyes.  This case is a blatant, but no less powerful, way of using a song ("Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring") to add power to a story (the flow of family changes, from weddings to funerals and generations of music lovers).

The second use is slightly more interwoven.  In this case, you would probably still identify the song, but you would also include lyrics or phrases from the song into the story itself.  For example, a lot of people use music (or playlists) to keep them in tempo in exercise or some other prolonged activity.  In this case, you would explain the activity and weave in the words and/or rhythms. For instance, I could write about the time I absconded with my father's messianic music that he'd received as the church choir director and used the beat for the dance for aerobics.  I could add in the words and beat into my description of my workout, my mother's repeated requests that I go downstairs where I didn't make the china cabinet rock with my jumping, and the place where the dog barked along with the song (or with my workout, I could never be sure).  In this case, the song is present in more than the reference--it is linked with the action.

The third use is one of assonance (the use of repetitive vowel sounds), alliteration (the repetition of initial consonant sounds), and consonance (the repetition of internal consonant sounds).  Careful use of these sounds give prose a musical quality and often create a rhythm based on the length or ease with which the sounds are said.  Hard sounds will give the feeling of an obstacle--they may slow you down, or they may add to a feeling of prancing excitement.  Soft sounds are often used to speed up a section or to quiet it down (as a lullaby).  Long o's and u's soften and sadden a piece.  Short i's usually add joy and excitement.  One of the best examples of assonance, alliteration, and consonance in the telling of a story is in Edgar Allan Poe's The Bells

The fourth use of music in story is to use the characteristics of music (its rhythm, chorus, bridge, etc.) within the structure of your story.  A terrific example of this use is the song "Sunrise Sunset" from Fiddler on the Roof (lyrics here).  Even though the song is a poem, it's also a story in which each stage of childhood is recounted until the child has reached adulthood.  The chorus returns again to the sunrise and the sunset.  You can follow the same use of chorus in your own story.  Perhaps you too want to talk about the aging of a child.  You can describe each stage as a single day, using the passage as a choral structure.  Or, you can use other uses of chorus in your stories.  Perhaps you have a repeated question--How are you?, Where have you been?, etc.--that you can use to set off the portions of your story, giving them a verse-like structure. One of our Share a Pair ladies did that this year as she began and ended her piece with the same words.  She could also have used it more frequently if she had wanted, although it's fine the way it is.  I just wanted to show you how the structure can be used.  Similarly, you could choose to use the echo between parts that a cannon shows if you want to explain similarity between generations.  For example, I could tell a story of my dad trying to do something with his tongue sticking out, repeat a story of myself following a similar pattern, also with my tongue sticking out, and follow it up with a story of my son concentrating on a new task, also with his tongue sticking out.  If I choose to repeat sentence structure, verbs, and images, I essentally invoke the power of melody over the story.

So, your assignment this week is to use any (or all) of these uses of music to enhance a story that you want to tell.  I can't wait to hear them!

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